COLUMBUS, Ohio – For the eighth time in his head coaching career, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will look across the field and face a head coach who was, at one time, an assistant coach under his tutelage.
This time, though, it’s different. It won’t just be Chris Ash, the first-year head coach for the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, peering over from the visitors sideline at Ohio Stadium on Saturday.
Ash and Rutgers have made no bones about it. They are emulating the Buckeyes in as many ways as they can.
“I’d be foolish not to take a lot of what I learned at Ohio State,” Ash said during Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “Because it works extremely well. From a program standpoint, I had a very successful tenure that at Ohio State. I learned a lot from coach Meyer and the other assistants on that staff. It’s a tremendous staff.”
Outside of Ash, offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer, defensive backs coach Bill Busch, special teams coordinator Vince Okruch and strength coach Kenny Parker were all staffers at Ohio State with Ash and, of course, with Meyer.
Rutgers knows Ohio State. Ohio State knows Rutgers. In order to offset that familiarity, the Buckeyes are trying to adapt.
“They got all kinds of people,” Meyer said when asked about Rutgers and their staff and their knowledge of Ohio State’s schemes, signals and personnel. “I think that, not to make light of it, that is very serious stuff and we have had that conversation (Monday) morning in great detail. We changed most of our defensive signals prior to this, and offensively we’re being very cautious. Also, special teams, my guy that helped me, Vince, was there. Now he’s on their staff, so we’ve got to just be sharp.”
When it comes to playing against people you know — and people who know you — execution can be vital, but familiarity goes both ways. Ohio State junior quarterback J.T. Barrett says that knowing the defense Chris Ash will deploy Saturday can provide the Buckeyes an advantage rather than being a potential stumbling block.
“I think (Ash) is going to get them ready to go and play against us,” Barrett said of the Scarlet Knights. “I think they have a good philosophy that’s similar to ours. That kind of makes us comfortable being that we’ve seen it before, but also, I know he’s going to throw in some things we’ve not seen before. We just need to prepare and be ready to go.
“It’s a funky mix between the two (feeling comfortable and knowing they may as well). I think there’s part of a comfort level with that, but also you know that since he does know our offense — we went against each other in practice for two years — he’s not going to let our base things try to happen. He’s going to throw in some new things we haven’t seen. At the end of the day we’ve just got to be prepared for what he’s going to throw at us and make adjustments when it comes to game time.”
Mehringer, who served under former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman for seven seasons before taking over as Rutgers offensive coordinator, is one of the men responsible for helping Barrett develop into the quarterback he’s become. On Monday, Mehringer said that he has a ton of respect for the Buckeyes and what they do.
“Obviously we’re playing Ohio State,” Mehringer said. “They’re a very talented opponent and I’ve (got) tremendous respect for those guys having worked with a majority of them in my past. Three of the guys — or two of the guys — on offense I know, including the head coach and a bunch of the guys on defense have been there. I’ve got a lot of respect and a lot of admiration for what they’ve done for a long time. It’ll be a good defense, not one we can’t play with or anything like that, on offense we’re really looking forward to the opportunity to go up against one of the best teams in the country and one of the best-coached teams in the country.”
College football’s youngest coordinator credits Meyer for helping him develop into the coach he is now from the graduate assistant he was when he left Ohio State.
“I had the pleasure and the privilege of having a lot of interaction with Coach Meyer,” Mehringer said. “He’s very involved. He’s involved in not only the assistant coaches lives, but the GAs as well in terms of coaching them and developing them. In fact, you’re mandated and forced to develop as a coach. If you’re not, what value do you really bring to his program? But, tremendous, tremendous value from spending time with him and listening to the way that he coaches, the way that he prepares.
“The intensity he brings to the every-day process of college football. The every-day process of getting coaches and getting players to compete and perform and the highest level. My experience around him has been invaluable and I think Coach Herman would say the same thing.”
Rutgers hasn’t hit its peak potential yet, but as Ash and his Ohio State-centric coaching staff continue to find their level, it’s clear its goal is to get there by following in the footsteps of Meyer and the Buckeyes.
On Monday, Meyer pulled no punches when he was asked about preparing for the Scarlet Knights. What will Rutgers bring into Ohio Stadium to try to stop the Buckeyes offense? Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
“It’s our defense,” Meyer said, grinning. “It’s our defense. I mean like exactly.”